Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670): Reformer of Humanity. A Cosmopolitan Contribution to the 17th Century Discourse on World Peace
Baltic Yearbook of International Law, Volume 7, 2007
34 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2016
Date Written: March 1, 2007
The history of international law scholarship tends to be presented as a primarily Western European affair. This is problematic in particular when it comes to the early ages of international law, the seventeenth century, when those contributing to the scholarship on the law of nature and nations were all inhabitants of the Pan-European Republic of Letters. At this critical time in the history of international legal thought, the Czech Jan Amos Komenský (Comenius) – who was born on 28 March 1592 in Bohemia and died in 1670 in Amsterdam – lived and worked as a true European intellectual and made a significant contribution to our discipline. One of the last Renaissance humanists, Comenius was carrying on a philosophical tradition that would soon be considered passé. This paper argues to that Comenius should be recognised and studied as one of the intellectuals who contributed to the discourse on world peace and universal justice, in particular for his scholarship as an alternative to the theories of his contemporaries Hobbes and Grotius. It situates Comenius in the universalist or cosmopolitan tradition of international thought by looking at three elements of his scholarship. First, to Comenius the unity of mankind entailed a natural prohibition of human warfare. He reminds us that, as in a national society, in a true universal society the use of force should be outlawed. Second, his views on trade – clearly influenced by the infamous violent conduct of trade companies overseas – reconnected ethos and economics. Thirdly and finally, Comenius’s universalist assumptions led him beyond Grotian thought as he developed a set of universal institutions of humanity in which the spheres of politics, religion and education were separated yet equally represented at the international stage. Beyond the level of sovereign princes and the emerging modern states, Comenius envisions the institutional organisation of these three spheres in one encompassing order, which today we would perhaps qualify as supranational. This paper focusses on the Panorthosia (Universal Reform) and Angelus Pacis (Angel of Peace). These works were written in Amsterdam during the final years of Comenius’s life.
Keywords: Comenius, history of international law, cosmopolitanism, fair trade, humanity, nationalism, education, Amsterdam, trade companies
JEL Classification: K, N4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation